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Violence in Social Life

Author(s): Mary R. Jackman


Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 28 (2002), pp. 387-415
Published by: Annual Reviews
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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2002. 28:387-415


doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.140936
Copyright? 2002 by AnnualReviews. All rightsreserved

IN SOCIALLIFE
VIOLENCE
MaryR. Jackman

Departmentof Sociology, Universityof California,Davis, California95616;


e-mail: mrjackman@ucdavis.edu

Key Words ideology,deviance,intent,injury


* Abstract Two features have markedthe sociological analysis of violence:
(a) disparateclustersof researchon variousforms of violence that have been the
objectof urgentsocial concern,and relatedly,(b) an overwhelmingfocus on forms
of violence that are socially deviantand motivatedby willful malice. The resulting
literatureis balkanizedanddisjointed,andyet narrowlyfocused.The systematicunderstandingof violence as a broadgenusof socialbehaviorhas sufferedaccordingly.
I examinethe issues that have cloudedthe analysisof violence: the importanceof
physicalinjuriesvs. psychological,social,andmaterialinjuries;the weightplacedon
physicalvs. verbalandwrittenactions;theroleof forcevs. victimcomplicityin theinvs. corporateagentsandvictims.
flictionof injuries;andtheemphasison interpersonal
Thatdiscussionhighlightsthe widelyvaryingformsof violencein sociallife, including manyinstancesthatareneitherdrivenby maliciousintentnorsociallyrepudiated.
I considerthe diversemotivesthatdriveviolentactionsandthe variantsocial acceptanceor repudiationthattheymeet.I proposea genericdefinitionof violence,freedof
adhoc restrictions,thatencompassesthe full populationof violentsocialactions.This
directsus to moresystematicquestionsaboutviolencein social life.

INTRODUCTION
The sociological analysis of violence has been driven by social and policy imperativesthathave molded and warpedour understandingof it. Most sociologists
relegate violence to the domain of criminology and deviance, and, indeed, it is
there that one finds most of the pertinentresearch.Those forms of contemporary
violence that are illegal, socially deviant,popularlycensured,or associated with
social conflict have elicited intense clusters of research,as have historicalcases
of violence now viewed censoriouslyor attachedto an historicalmomentof high
conflict.Variousformsof criminalviolence (homicide,assault,andmorerecently,
violence againstwomen, and sexual violence against
child abuse,intimate-partner
have
the
been
women)
primarytargetsof attentionamong sociologists, with each
of research.Otherspecialized bodies of research(pribodies
inspiringdisparate
and
historians
marily among
political scientists) have evolved on such topics as
laborviolence, violence in slavery,lynching, and urbancivil violence. The result
is a researchliteraturethatis both specializedandbalkanized.As researchershave
0360-0572/02/0811-0387$14.00

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387

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JACKMAN
delved into the immediatedemandsof their respective domains of inquiry,gaping holes and inconsistencieshave gone unnoticed.Much as some scholarshave
bemoanedthe lack of cohesion in researchon violence (see, e.g., Ohlin & Tonry
1989;Weis 1989;Reiss & Roth 1993), most scholarshave proceededwithouthesitation as though the conceptualtangle had been cleared.Researcherscommonly
refer to a phenomenoncalled violence that implies a clearly understood,generic
class of behaviors,and yet no such concept exists.
This researchenvironmenthas spawneda conceptionof violence thatis biased
and morallychargedat the same time as it is clouded and unwieldy.Two overarching assumptionshave dominatedthe line of vision. First, violence is typically
assumedto be motivatedby hostility andthe willful intentto cause harm.Second,
it is usually assumedthatviolence is deviant-legally, socially, or morally-from
the mainstreamof humanactivity.Althoughthese assumptionsarerarelystatedexplicitly,thathas not detractedfromtheirinfluence.Violence has come to be viewed
as comprisingeruptionsof hostility thathave bubbledover the normalboundaries
of social intercourse.When violence is motivatedby positive intentions,or is the
incidentalby-productof other goals, or is socially acceptedor lauded, it escapes
our attention.
Beneath those framing assumptions lies a conceptual quicksand. Most researchershave slippedinto a set of workingconventionsaboutthe specificdefining
attributesof violence. Othershave been silently pulled by the demandsof their
subject matterinto incorporatingvariantcriteria.Alternativeapproachescoexist
without reconciliation.By these means, four issues have irresolutelyshapedour
understandingof violence. First, most analysts have restrictedtheir attentionto
actions that result in physical (corporal)injuries, althoughpsychological, material, and social injurieshave been invoked on an ad hoc basis in some contexts.
Second, conceptions of violence are usually restrictedto physical behaviorsand
the threat of physical behaviors, although verbal and written actions have also
been includedon a sporadicbasis. Third,the issue of victim compliancehas led to
uncertaintyaboutthe statusof some injuriousactions.Whenforce has clearlybeen
used (i.e., the victim is unwilling), actions are defined as violent, but ambiguity
hangs over manyinjuriousactions in which the resistanceof the victim is unclear
or in which s/he enduresthe injurieswillingly. Is it violence when the recipientof
the injuryhas complicity in the behavior,either tacitly (as when the victim fails
to offer resistanceor to leave a relationshipor an environmentin which injuryis
inflicted) or actively (as when someone is masochistic or suicidal)? Fourth,our
narrow,legalistic concept of agency has led scholars to highlight interpersonal
violence. Such actions have individuallyidentifiableagents and victims and immediate and certainoutcomes. By contrast,injuriousactions with fragmentedor
corporateagency, amorphousor anonymousvictims, and delayed or probabilistic
injuriesare includedonly intermittentlyin researchon violence.
In this conceptualquagmire,importantquestionsaboutthe definingattributesof
violence and the humanrelationshipwith violence have slippedinto the shadows.
I begin with a brief discussion of some attemptsthat have been made to patch

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togethera generic definitionof violence. Those definitionsreveal the forces that


have shaped researchon violence and the consequentbiases, lapses, and inconsistencies in our understandingof it. I then discuss the four key dimensions that
have nebulouslyshapedworkingconceptionsof violence. Thatdiscussionreveals
a variabilityin the humanrelationshipwith violence thatbelies the biases of most
researchand underminesthe reigning assumptionsthathostility and deviance are
the hallmarksof violence. I turnto those next. Once we widen our field of vision,
it becomes apparentthatthe impetusto violence is not confinedto episodes of deviant hostility.Instead,violent actionsarea normalpartof the humanrepertoireof
strategicsocial behaviors.Violence incorporatesa diversearrayof actionsthatare
an integralfeatureof social life. To capturethis, we need a systematic,autonomous,
generic conception of violence, freed from the biases and inconsistenciesof past
research.With that templatein hand, we can begin to identify,differentiate,and
assess systematicallythe full populationof actions that fall within the family of
violence. New questionsthen emerge aboutviolence in social life.

EXISTINGDEFINITIONSOF VIOLENCE
As scholarshaverushedto the analysisof specific formsof violence thathave generatedurgentsocial concern,the systematicdefinitionof violence has languished.
Those few analysts who have attemptedto cast a broaderconceptual net have
generallyrestrictedthemselves to a subset of violent behaviors,such as domestic
violence (itself subdividedinto child abuse, intimate-partnerviolence, and elder
abuse),genderviolence, civil violence, criminalviolence, or some selective combinationof these (e.g., Bart & Moran 1993; Reiss & Roth 1993; Graham& Gurr
1969; Gurr1989). The resulthas been a series of partiallyoverlappingconceptual
amalgams,with inconsistenciesandgaps both withinandamongthem.When definitionshave reachedover differentdomainsof violence, they have been stretched
andmodifiedto accommodateinconsistentapproaches,withoutattemptingto reconcile them.
One of the most ambitious-and precise-definitions of violence is that laid
out by Reiss & Roth in the introductionto an important,four-volumecompendium
sponsoredby the NationalResearchCouncil, Understandingand PreventingViolence (Reiss & Roth 1993, p. 35-37).
The panel limited its considerationof violent behavior to interpersonalviolence, which it defined as behavior by persons against persons that intentionally threatens,attempts,or actuallyinflicts physical harm.The behaviors
included in this definition are largely included in definitions of aggression.
A great deal of what we believe about violence is based on psychosocial
researchon aggressivebehaviors...
The panel's definitiondeliberatelyexcludes considerationof humanbehavior
thatinflictsphysicalharmunintentionally... even when they occuras a result
of corporatepolicies (e.g., to expose workersto toxic chemicals)thatincrease

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JACKMAN
the risk of injuryor death for some category of persons. Also excluded are
certain behaviors that inflict physical harm intentionally:violence against
oneself, as in suicides and attemptedsuicides;andthe use of violence by state
authoritiesin the course of enforcing the law, imposing capitalpunishment,
and providing collective defense ....

Ourdefinitionof violence also excludes events such as verbalabuse, harassment, or humiliation,in which psychological traumais the sole harmto the
victim. However,especially in the context of violence in the family and sexual violence, we do attendto the psychological consequences of threatened
physical injury.
Reiss & Roth's formulation of a precise definition that spans the various
bodies of researchin their compendiumhighlights the emphases-as well as the
inconsistencies-that havemarkedthatresearch.Theirdefinitionrestrictsviolence
to behaviorsthatare interpersonal,inflict or threatenphysicalharm,and are motivatedby harmfulintent.Theserestrictivecriteriaarerelaxed,however,on an adhoc
basis when they become inconvenientfor the inclusionof featuresthathave come
underscrutinyin a specific line of research.For example, psychological injuries
areselectively includedin the contextof family and sexualviolence, andthenonly
when they result from threatsof physical injury.This ad hoc adjustmentincorporates the emphasis on psychological harmmade by many scholars of spousal
violence andrape(e.g., Russell 1982;Finkelhor& Yllo 1983; Stanko1985; Darke
1990), but it implies thatis the only contextin which psychological injuriesresult
or areseriousenoughto warrantattention.Such an assumptionis implausibleon its
face andis flatlycontradictedby the evidence (see section on The Rangeof Injurious Outcomesbelow). However,the definitionsimply incorporatespast oversights
and inconsistencieswithouttryingto rectify them. In similarfashion, a varietyof
behaviorsthatmeet the specifiedcriteriaof physical injuryand harmfulintentare
specifically excluded from the definition:those that are self-inflicted, and those
inflicted by state authoritiesin the course of enforcing the law, punishment,or
providingcollective defense. The firstexclusion is consistentwith the definition's
restrictionto interpersonalviolence, althoughthatrestrictionis itself arbitrary.The
second exclusion conformsto the commonfocus on criminalor deviantbehaviors
found in extantresearch,but it is an ad hoc adjustmentthat summarilydismisses
legitimized violence thatotherwisemeets the definition'scriteria.
Reiss & Rothdrawexplicitly on the termaggression,andthis is in keepingwith
much of the literatureon violence. Unfortunately,the definitionof aggression is
itself subjectto many of the same restrictionsand ambiguities(cf., Mazur 1983;
Berkowitz1993). However,some analystshaveused a relativelycleardefinitionof
aggressionas "anyform of behaviorthatis intendedto injuresomeone physically
or psychologically" (Berkowitz 1993, p. 3; see also Eagly & Steffen 1986). As
with violence, this definitionrestrictsitself to injuriousbehaviorswith harmful
intent, but it gives equal weight to physical and psychological harm (while still
excluding materialand social harm).

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Now consider the definitionof violence employed by the Centersfor Disease


Controland Prevention(Rosenberg 1994) and the CaliforniaPolicy Council on
Violence Prevention(Final Report,August 1995):
Violence is the threatenedor actual use of physical force or power against
anotherperson, against oneself, or against a group or communitythat either
resultsin, or has a high likelihoodof resultingin, injury,death,or deprivation.
This definitionis muchbroaderandmoreinclusive,butit is also less precise.Unlike
Reiss & Roth (1993), it includesnot only injuriesinflictedon anotherperson,but
also self-inflictedinjuries,as well as injuriesinflictedon groupsandcommunities,
andinjuriesthatareeithercertainorprobabilistic.Physicalviolence is emphasized,
althoughapparentlynot exclusively,in the stipulationof "physicalforce or power"
to inflict the injury.If the definition does mean to include power as something
separatefromphysicalforce, the rangeof pertinentactionsis broadened,although
with the additionof a complex and amorphousconcept whose ambiguitieshave
themselves spawned a huge literatureand heated disagreement(see, e.g., Dahl
1968; Bachrach& Baratz 1970; Gramsci 1971; Lukes 1974; R. Jackman 1993;
M. Jackman1994). This definitionalso contains an internalinconsistency:Selfinflicted injuries are included, therebyimplying that victim complicity does not
negate the definition of an injuriousact as violent, but it also stipulatesthat all
violent actions involve the use of physical force or othermeans of coercion.
Another way to approachthe conception of violence is through the lens of
nonviolence,since the latterinvolves the self-consciousrenunciationof the former.
Here, too, the concept is both restrictedand nebulous:
Physical violence, which is what we most often have in mind when we speak
aboutviolence, is the use of physicalforceto causeharm,death,ordestruction,
as in rape, murder,or warfare.But some forms of mental or psychological
harm are so severe as to warrantbeing called violence as well. People can
be harmedmentally and emotionally in ways that are as bad as by physical
violence.... Althoughphysicalviolence often attendstheinflictionof psychological violence, it need not do so .... [People] can also be terrorizedwithout
being harmed physically .... An unlimited commitment to nonviolence will

renouncepsychological as well as physical violence (Holmes 1990, p. 1-2).


This definitionputsprimaryemphasison coercivephysicalbehaviorsthatresultin
physicalinjuries,butit also specifiesthat"someforms"of mentalor psychological
harmare sufficientlysevere to warrantinclusion. It remainsunclearhow to judge
whether specific cases of psychological injury are sufficiently severe for inclusion, and Holmes's examples-verbal abuseof children,racism,and sexism-are
themselvesambiguous:When does a racialjoke cross the line between meretasteless remarkand serious racial slur, and so on? Like definitions of violence and
aggression,this definitionalso neglects materialand social injuries.
Some analystshave observedthat the strongpolicy orientationof researchon
violence has driven scholars to conceive of the phenomenon in terms that are

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JACKMAN
unduly influenced by legal definitions of violent crime. For example, Fagan &
Browne (1994, p. 131) note that many scholars working on domestic violence
have been interestedin informinglegal policy and have thus relied primarilyon
definitionsthat stressedcodified behaviorsused in the criminaljustice system. In
this vein, Straus (1990, p. 58) argues that it is useful for empiricalmeasures of
maritalviolence to focus on specific acts thatreflectthe legal distinctionbetween
simple and aggravatedassaultas well as the distinctionsthatare commonly made
in normativestandardsof conduct. The motivationof most scholars of violence
to addresspolicy issues has been furtherencouragedby the fact that the funding
for researchon violence has overwhelminglycome from agencies with a strong
interestin social policy. This slanthas shapedboth the kinds of violence thathave
been studied and the way in which they are conceptualized.Thus, acts such as
emotionalmaltreatment,verbalharassment,and persistentdenigrationof spouses
have had an uncertainstatus in family violence researchbecause they produce
little or no physical injury,even though scholarsare increasinglyrecognizingthe
salienceof psychologicalinjurieswhen they spin off fromthe inflictionor threatof
physical injuries.Acts like maritalrape that are not crimes in all Americanstates
have sometimes been excluded from examination(see Russell 1982). Concern
for maintainingconsistency with legal definitionshas also steeredresearchersto
focus overwhelminglyon interpersonalacts of violence (e.g., Stanko1995) andto
restrictattentionto acts thatare clearly premeditatedwith an intentto harm.
In a paralleldiscussion of political violence three decades ago, Wolff (1971)
complained that notions of illegitimate force are too central to conceptions of
violence (Wolff 1971). Wolffsummarizedwhathe saw as theprevailingconception
of violence as "the illegitimate or unauthorizeduse of force to effect decisions
againstthe will or desire of others"(Wolff 1971, p. 59). In this schema,the killing
of a police officerby a civilianis consideredhomicide(a.k.a.violence), whereasthe
killing of a civilian by a police officer"inthe line of duty"is consideredjustifiable
homicide,outsidetherealmof violence. Similarly,whenthe statelawfullyexecutes
a convictedcriminal,it is not usuallytreatedas violence, buta lynch mob executing
a convictedcriminalis treatedas violence. The exposureof workersto hazardous
working conditions that result in death or injuryis also not consideredviolence,
either because the hazardlevel is within the law or because the motives of the
employerareimpossible to verify within legalistic notions of premeditatedintent.
Instead, the term "laborviolence" is generally restrictedto the deaths, injuries,
and propertydamage associated with strikes and other challenges to the lawful
authorityof employers.
Wolff was moved to conclude that, since the concept of legitimate authority
is itself problematicand the identificationof violence dependson distinguishing
illegitimatefromlegitimateforce, "theconceptof violence is inherentlyconfused,
as is the correlativeconceptof non-violence"(Wolff 1971, p. 55). Indeed,Reiss &
Roth (1993, p. 36) observe that their own definitionof violence (quoted above)
excludes fromconsiderationthe importantquestionof why some violent behaviors
are criminalizedwhile others are not, and why this varies over time and across

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cultures.Although they feel boundto hew close to the vagariesof extantresearch


in their own definition of violence, they "recognize that understandingwill be
enhancedin futureresearchby studyinga broaderrangeof violent behaviorusing
classes based on behavioralratherthanlegal categories"(1993, p. 36).
This paper is an attemptto respondto that challenge. Urgent concerns about
particularforms of criminal and socially deviant violence (especially homicide
and assaults,and more recently,child abuse,rape, and intimate-partner
violence)
have dominatedthe research agenda. As a result, disparateclusters of research
have erupted concerning specific forms of violence that are physical, interpersonal, forceful, harmfullyintended, and socially/legally repudiated.Within that
narrowset, the imperativesof each researchclusterhave producedspecific working conventionsand emphases. Currentdefinitionsof violence reflect the biases,
inconsistencies, and ambiguitiesthat have thus arisen. We are overdue to cast a
broader,more systematicconceptualnet. The place to begin is with a brief assessment of the key sources of variationthathave been glossed over, side-stepped,or
summarilyassumedaway in most researchon violence.

THE RANGEOF INJURIOUSOUTCOMES:PHYSICAL,


AND SOCIAL
MATERIAL,
PSYCHOLOGICAL,
Physicaloutcomessuch as pain,injury,disfigurement,bodily alteration,functional
impairment,or death,as well as physicalrestraintor confinement,have a wincing
resonance that violates our basic desire for physical survival,avoidanceof pain,
and preservationof bodily integrityandautonomy.The apparentconcretenessand
immediacyof physical injuriesheightens their visibility and ease of observation.
They hardlyencapsulate,however,the full assortmentof injuriesthathumansfind
consequential.Psychological outcomes such as fear, anxiety, anguish, shame, or
diminishedself-esteem;materialoutcomessuch as the destruction,confiscation,or
defacementof property,or the loss of earnings;and social outcomes such as public
humiliation, stigmatization,exclusion, imprisonment,banishment,or expulsion
are all highly consequentialand sometimes devastatingfor humanwelfare. The
personalpain caused by some of these injuriesmay be more severe or prolonged
than from many physical injuries.Indeed, the most profoundeffects of physical
violence itself are often nonphysical.For example, among survivorsof airplane
hijackings, wars, prison camps, and concentrationcamps, the suffering caused
by subsequentpsychological distress (now medicalized as post-traumaticstress
disorder)often endureslong afterany physical injurieshave healed.
More generally, a physically harrowingexperience or a debilitatingor mutilating bodily injuryis often consequentialfor the victim in large partbecause of
its long-termimpact on his or her psychological, material,or social welfare. Indeed, the boundariesbetweendifferenttypes of injuryarefundamentallyclouded.
For example, is humiliationprimarilya social or a psychological injury?Do its
injuriouseffects hinge more on the loss of social status or of self-esteem? One

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JACKMAN
type of injury spills over into another,as when material deprivationresults in
negative corporaloutcomes (like starvationor lack of resistanceto disease) and
negativepsychological outcomes (like anxiety,despairand feelings of powerlessness). Even more fundamentally,the relationshipsamongdifferenttypes of injury
are not well understood.To what extent do psychological injuries like depression or stress increase people's vulnerabilityto negative corporaloutcomes like
illness, harmfuladdictions,or propensityto harmfulaccidents?Medical research
has demonstratedthe negative impact of psychological states like stress and depressionon physicalhealthoutcomes,throughits effects on the autonomicnervous
system, the endocrinesystem,the immunesystem, andpoorhealthbehaviors(e.g.,
Pennebakeretal. 1988; de Loos 1990; McFarlaneet al. 1994;Resnicket al. 1997).
Rape, which is typically seen as a physical injury,may actually be more significant for the psychological and social injuriesit inflicts: Rape is fundamentally
the violation of sexual autonomy,which is in largeparta social and psychological
injury,bringingin its trailpersonalhumiliation,sense of violation, loss of control,
anxiety,andfrequentlysocial shame(e.g., Burgess& Holstrom1974;Finkelhor&
Yllo 1983; Darke 1990; Von et al. 1991; Resick 1993). Finally, the sensation of
physicalpainitself-a key ingredientof whatwe understandas physicalinjury-is
a complex intermixtureof physiological and psychological stimuli: The precise
causal contributionof each to people's felt sensation of pain is still debated by
medical researchers(Morris1991).
Authoritiesconcernedwith devising compelling humanpunishmentshave displayed a more sensitive appreciationof noncorporalinjuriesthanhave most scholars of violence. Such authoritieshave stocked their repertoiresas much with
actions that inflict humiliation,stigmatization,materialloss, and social isolation
as with those inflictingphysicalpainor mutilation,even in historicalperiodswhen
there was a heavierreliance on corporalpunishments[see, e.g., the punishments
employed by slave-ownersin the antebellumSouth (Stampp 1956; Elkins 1968;
Crawford 1992) and by church and secular authoritiesin Europe in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early modem period (Russell 1972; Foucault 1977;
Johnson1987;Manchester1992;Barstow1994;Peters1989, 1996)]. Humanrights
groups have drawn attentionto the devastatingpsychological effects of solitary
confinementin prisons (perhapsthe ultimatesocial punishment)(HumanRights
Watch1997, p. 62-74). Whenthoughthas gone into the matter,humansensibilities
are apparentlyjust as finely attunedto psychological, social, andmaterialinjuries
as to physical ones.
Indeed,some humanbehaviorssuggest thereare certainsocial, psychological,
and materialinjuriesthat are consideredmore dauntingthan physical injurieshardlysurprising,given humans'high sociabilityand manifestdesire for material
gain. Forexample,the millions of Chinesewomen who compelledtheirdaughters
to bind their feet (therebyinflictingon them permanentphysical injury,debilitating functional impairment,and chronic physical pain) might have reportedthat
such physical injurieswere preferableto the social isolation, materialimpoverishment, stigmatization,and crushed self-esteem that would have befallen their

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daughtershad their feet not been bound (Levy 1966; Jackson 1990; Mann et al.
1990; Blake 1994; Dworkin 1994). A similarcalculus motivatesthe painful and
debilitatingpractice of genital cutting on an estimated 100-132 million women
in Africa today (El Dareer 1982; Lightfoot-Klein 1989, Economist 1999, World
Health Organization2001). Even when the stakes are less extreme, millions of
Westernwomen submit without hesitationto surgicalpain (e.g., face lifts, liposuction, breastimplants)or self-inflictedcalorie deprivationin orderto promote
their social or economic prospectsand enhancetheir self-esteem.
Researchon violence has riddenroughshodover this complex territory,assigning overwhelmingsignificance to physical injuries (e.g., Graham& Gurr 1969;
Reiss & Roth 1993; Utech 1994; Ruback& Weiner 1995). Despite the increasing
amountof evidence on the pervasivenessand durationof psychological injuries
such as PTSD resulting from a wide range of traumaticexperiences (see, e.g.,
Figley 1985, 1986; Wilson & Raphael 1993; AmericanPsychiatricAssociation
1994; Kilpatricket al. 1998), the only violence researchto have routinelyincorporatedpsychological injuriesis that on family or sexual violence. Many studies
of child abuse,intimate-partner
violence, and sexual assaulthave emphasizedthe
importanceof such negative psychological consequences as PTSD, depression,
substanceabuse, low self-esteem, sense of violation, and the inabilityto function
independently(e.g., Dobash& Dobash 1979;Walker1979;Lynch& Roberts1982;
Finkelhor& Yllo 1983;Frieze&Browne 1989;Tolman1989;Darke1990;Stark&
Flitcraft 1991; Von et al. 1991; Evans 1992; Browne 1993; Laumannet al. 1994,
pp. 338-339). Even in thatcontext,actionsthatinflict solely psychologicalinjuries
are usually bypassed (for exceptions, see Tolman 1989; Evans 1992, 1993). Material injuriesare also generallyoverlookedin formaldefinitionsof violence and
in discussions of interpersonalviolence, even though acts like vandalismand the
destructionof propertyareroutinelyacknowledgedas some of the terriblecosts of
terrorismandwarwith profoundmaterial,psychological,andsocial repercussions.
Social injuriesarethe leastlikely to be acknowledgedin discussionsof violence, althoughtheirsignificanceis highlightedsporadically,as when strikingworkerspractice social exclusion againstnonstrikingworkers,or when pornographicmaterials
are alleged to commit violence againstwomen by demeaningtheir social status.
The inclusionof specificnonphysicalinjuriesin one or anotherdomainwithout
acknowledgingthe generalsignificanceof such injuriesresultsin a patchy,ad hoc
conceptionof violence. We need to be consistentaboutwhat kinds of injuriesare
consequential,and to develop more systematic criteriato assess the severity of
variousinjuries.

INJURIOUS BEHAVIORS:PHYSICAL, VERBAL, WRITTEN


Primacyhas usuallybeen accordedto physicallyviolent behaviors,butthatis misleading on two maincounts.First,verbalandwrittenactionsmay also accomplish
the infliction of physical injuries,either by directly initiatingthem (as in formal

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JACKMAN
edicts or contracts)or by inciting othersto acts of physical violence (as in newspaperor magazinearticlesor television programsthateitherdirectlyadvocatethe
inflictionof injurieson an individualor group,or thatencouragephysicalviolence
indirectlyby portrayingan individualor groupas a moralor physical threat).Because of ourlegalisticconceptof agency,ourattentionis drawnto the most obvious
physicalperpetratorof the deed, butthe instigatorsof the actionmay lie discreetly
elsewhere.Who is the responsibleagentof violence: the lynch mob, the legal system and police who fail to prosecutethe membersof the mob, or the people who
encouragelynchingsby actively assertingwhite racialdominanceor the heinousness of certainbreachesof the moral order?Surely,it is a communalcomplicity
madeup of an accumulationof verbaland/orwrittenactionsthataccomplishesthe
deed, even thoughonly a small numberof actorsmay be physically implicated.
Second, verbal and writtenactions may directly accomplish a variety of nonphysical injuries. Verbal or written actions that derogate, defame, or humiliate
an individual or group may inflict substantialpsychological, social, or material
injurieswithout being as conspicuous or flagrantas physical violence (see, e.g.,
Clark& Clark[1947] 1958; Tajfel 1969; Evans 1992). Ourlegal code recognizes
the significance of such actions against individuals (in permittinglitigation for
alleged slander or libel), although not against groups (as when stereotypesdefame group membersand diminish their self-esteem, social status, and material
prospects)(Clark& Clark[1947] 1958; Tajfel 1969; Brigham 1971; Wordet al.
1974; Snyder 1981; Jackman 1994; Farley et al. 1994; Feagin & Sikes 1994;
Greenwald& Banaji 1995; Bobo & Smith 1996; Bobo & Johnson2000; Jost &
Major2001; Sinclairet al. 2002). In many contexts (as in academia,where individuals' statureis more dependenton their commandof language than on their
physical prowess), verbal and written assaults carry more credibility-and are
thereforemore damaging-than crudephysical assaults.Perhapsfor this reason,
the flamingemail, the vituperativeverbalattack,and back-bitinggossip are more
familiarfeaturesof departmentallife thanfist-fights.
In short, there are diverse, and often quieter,ways of inflicting injuriesthan
by physical assault alone. Insteadof disregardingverbal and writtenmethods of
violence, we shouldrespecttheirpotency and analyzethe conditionsunderwhich
agents of violence choose one or anothermethodof delivery.

VICTIMHOOD AND COMPLIANCE


Violence is typically thoughtto involve force, that is, the victim is an unwilling
recipientof the injury.Complianceor complicityfromthe recipientof the injuryis
usuallythoughtto negatevictimhoodandthusto jeopardizethe characterizationof
theeventas violent (e.g., see definitionsabove).And yet certaininjuriousbehaviors
thatdo not involve force areoccasionallyincludedwithinthe rubricof violence, or
they areleft hangingnebulouslyat the margins.Cases in which someone inflictsan
injuryon himself (such as suicide or self-mutilation)are especially problematic.
Suicides are usually excluded (as in Reiss & Roth 1993) but sometimes included

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(as in Holinger 1987). And some behaviorsinvolving agent-to-victiminjuriesare


subject to doubt because of ambiguity about the degree to which the victim is
willing, compliant,or even has complicity. The high interpersonalinjuryrate in
some sports, such as boxing or football, occasionally generates concern in the
press, but such discussions arerarelycouched in termsof violence because of the
high degreeof voluntarismamongplayers.Spousalabuse, sexualharassment,and
rapehave increasinglybeen includedwithin the umbrellaof violence, but thereis
dissension aboutthe statusof individualcases in which batteredwives fail to leave
their husbands, sexually harassedwomen fail to file charges or quit their jobs,
or women allege rape but are unable to produce convincing physical evidence
of coercion. Victims are then confrontedwith the frustratinginconsistency of a
society thatexpressesmoraloutrageaboutthe categoryof behaviors,butdiffidence
aboutparticularcases (Jackman1999). Indeed,the issue of victim compliancehas
hauntedthe literatureon violence againstwomen,threateningthe very statusof the
most prominentforms of female victimizationas bona fide instancesof violence
(e.g., Burt 1980; Taylor 1981; Jackman1999).
In short,the criterionof force is a nebulousdecision rule that has been inconsistentlyapplied,giving some injuriousbehaviorsan uncertainstatusin the family
of violence. There are threemain reasonswhy the force criterionshould be abandoned. First, the compliance/noncompliancedistinctionis inherentlyambiguous
because people rarely act as free agents, but instead must usually make choices
from a constrainedset that has been predeterminedby organizationalor situational factors beyond their control (see, for example, Bachrach& Baratz 1970;
Gramsci 1971; Lukes 1974; R. Jackman1993; M. Jackman1994, 1999). Given a
constrainedset of choices, the victim's alternativesto compliancemay be risky or
futile. Depending on the agent's and the victim's relativecontrol over resources,
compliancemay be the victim's best survivalstrategy.Rapeprovidesa particularly
blatantexampleof the compliancedilemma.Police often advise womenthatif they
are sexually assaulted,their best survivalstrategyis to offer no resistance, since
resistancemay resultin more seriousphysicalinjury(given the attacker'ssuperior
physical strengthor the presenceof a weapon),butif the womanoffersno evidence
of physicalresistance,she automaticallyunderminesherlegal claimto victimhood.
Poverty of resourcesand lack of access to informationcan also work to produce compliantvictims. Take,for example,the victims who willingly consentedto
participatein the TuskegeeSyphilis Experimentin Macon county,Alabama,from
1932 to 1972 (Jones 1993). These poor,rural,uneducatedAfrican-Americanmen
who were suffering from syphilis had no access to medical care at the onset of
the experiment.Most of these victims did not have to be forced to participatebecause povertyandignorancehadalreadyforeshortenedtheiroptions sufficientlyto
producetheirparticipation.The examplesof victimhoodthatconfoundnotions of
complianceareendless. Workerswho "willingly"expose themselvesto hazardous
workingconditionsdo so becausethey do not know of alternativeopportunitiesfor
employment,they fearreprisalsfrommanagementif theywere to complain,or they
areunawareof the gravityof the hazardsto which they arebeing exposed.Workers

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JACKMAN
who continueto workin settingswhere they are subjectto sexual harassmentmay
be unawareof alternativeemploymentopportunities,or they may fear substantial
economic or careerlosses if they filed a grievanceor moved to a new job.
Second, the compliance/noncompliancedistinctionis also difficultto observe
empirically.People's revealed behaviorsdo not always reflect their preferences,
especially in threateningsituations.Addedto this, people's observationandrecollection of events, especially volatile ones, arehighly subjectto bias andconfusion.
Injuriousbehaviorsthat take place without any outside witnesses, such as rape,
intimate-partnerassaults, and many instances of sexual harassmentin the work
place, are especially vulnerableto this ambiguitybecause the injuriousevent can
only be reconstructedthroughthe recollectionsof the two participants.Allegations
of sexual assaultor harassmentare unusualin thatthey hinge intrinsicallyon evidence of force ("non-consentingadult"),and for this reasonsuch allegationsoften
fail. The agent has self-interestedreasons for portrayingthe victim as an instigator or confederate.The victim may lack either the self-confidence or the social
credibilityto counterthe agent's claims effectively, or she may be too shakenor
humiliatedby the event to formulateallegationswith fortitude.Even when there
are outside witnesses, those witnesses arerarelyunbiasedor free fromperceptual
error.For example, a numberof studieshave documentedthe common bias found
among both bystandersand participants(including victims themselves) toward
"blamingthe victim"(Lerner& Simmons 1966;Bulman& Wortman1977; Miller
& Porter1983; Stark& Flitcraft1988).
Finally, there is little a priorireason to exclude those injuriousbehaviorsthat
do manifest relatively clear instances of voluntarysubmission to injury.These
include suicide, masochistic self-mutilation,voluntarysubmission to hunger or
injuryon behalf of a political cause (as with protestors'tactics such as hungerstrikingorpassiveresistance),voluntarysubmissionto painfulor hazardousbeauty
practices (such as breastimplantsor face-lifts), religiously motivatedabstinence
from food, sexual gratification,or materialpossessions, or religiously motivated
self-mutilation(such as the flagellationpracticedby some ferventChristianworshipersin Europeof the Middle Ages and in the Philippinestoday) (Kieckhefer
1974; Dickson 1989; Lambert1992; Los Angeles Times 1993). In such instances,
injuriesare nonetheless sustained,and those injuriesstill affect the welfare of the
victim. If injuriesare sometimes enduredwillingly, inclusion of such instances
may hold lessons aboutthe myriadand sometimesturbiddynamicsof violence in
social life.
Attributionsof responsibilityfor violence need to assess the degree to which
organizationalarrangementsframepeople's opportunitiesto commit or resist violence, andto recognizethatthe place of individualagencyin submittingto violence
is variable,complex, and subjectto bias or confusion in its observation.To comprehendthe humanpropensityfor violence, we need to analyzenot only the factors
that cause people to inflict injurieson others, but also the conditions and dispositions that lead people to tolerate-or even to seek-the inflictionof injurieson
themselves.

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AGENTS AND VICTIMS: INDIVIDUAL AND CORPORATE


The legal/criminologyimpetus in violence researchhas led to an overwhelming
focus on the infliction of injuriesperson-to-person,while ambiguityhovers over
morecorporateacts of violence (Jackman2001). Some specificformsof collective
violence have been the subjectof inquiry,such as political violence, civil unrest,
laborviolence, andintergroupconflictandviolence. War,genocide, andarmedconflict arisingfrom ethnic, racial, or religious differencesare commonly recognized
as corporateviolence writlarge.However,the analysisof such corporateactionsis
almost always disconnectedfrom researchon interpersonalviolence. More mundanecorporateactionswith injuriousoutcomesareunlikelyto be couchedin terms
of violence at all. Especially germaneare the decrees, decisions, and activities of
governmentalagencies (such as the police, courts, prison systems, armedforces,
legislative bodies, and governmentalbureaucracies)that adverselyaffect the welfareof groupsor individuals(see, e.g., Foucault1977;Dworkin1977; Cover 1986;
Hughes 1987; Kelman& Hamilton1989;Robertson& Judd1989; Johnson1990),
and productionand marketingdecisions of corporationsthat endangerthe health
or safety of workersor consumers(see, e.g., Gitelman 1973; Pollack & Keimig
1987; Kelman& Hamilton1989; Asch 1988; McGarity& Shapiro1993, National
Safe WorkplaceInstitute1990, NationalSafety Council 1995).
Our legalistic concept of agency requiresa plainly visible actor, and to be an
agent of violence there must be a directly observable,deterministicconnection
betweenthe behaviorof one andthe sufferingof another.In the formsof collective
violence that have been analyzed, corporateactors behave as an observableconglomerate,andthereareplainlyobservableeventswith injuriouseffects on persons
or property.Otherforms of corporateviolence have been harderto recognizespecifically, actions that result from the fragmentedor cumulativeactivities of
multiple actors, in which the agents or victims are faceless and/or amorphous,
or in which there is either a temporallag or a probabilisticrelationshipbetween
the actions taken by agents and the outcomes experienced by victims. The net
result is that our understandingof violence has not been informedby an analysis
of corporateor institutionalviolence, despite the heavy toll of death and suffering that they cause. For example, althoughthe term "laborviolence" commonly
denotes the violence that surroundsstrikesand other collective labor actions, the
death toll from such activities is minuscule comparedto the deaths from injuries
and diseases that are caused by the routine use of hazardousmachinery,procedures, or substancesin the workplace.A total of about 300 people were killed in
strike-relatedviolence in the United States in the twentiethcentury,almost all of
them priorto 1950 (data from Fillippelli 1990), whereas a conservativeestimate
of the numberof American workerskilled by work-relatedinjuries since 1930
exceeds 700,000 (NationalSafety Council, 1995; Pollack & Keimig 1987), and an
estimated50,000-100,000 Americanworkerscontinue to die annuallyfrom occupationallyinduced diseases (Office of TechnologyAssessment 1985, National
Safe WorkplaceInstitute1990).

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The repeatedspotlighton interpersonalviolence fosters the impression,howeverinadvertently,thatthe institutionalbackdropis nonviolent,therebysustaining
the view of violence as an individual-level,deviantbehavior.The individualwho
practicesviolence againstothersor himself may not be, however,the anomalythat
he appears.Instead,his violence may be consonantwith the institutionalor group
settings in which he lives.

WHAT MOTIVATESVIOLENCE?
Violenceis commonlyassociatedwiththe intentto causeharm,andwith anger,hostility,coercionor conflict,butmanyof the examplesraisedin the discussionabove
belie such a narrowrangeof motivationsfor the humandecision to inflictinjuryon
othersor oneself. Once we stepawayfromthe legal andmoralimperativesthathave
shapedresearchon violence, we are confrontedwith the diverse and sometimes
complex motivationsthat shade the variegatedpracticeof violence in social life.
Our legal system has developed a network of rules to determinethe willful
intentof defendants(e.g., Emanuel 1987), but those rules necessarilyentail arbitrarydecisions in order to steer throughan area that is intrinsicallyshaded and
complex. Take, for example, husbandswho remorsefullydeclare that they love
theirbatteredwives and did not meanto hurtthem,or gun-shotassaultson victims
on inner-citystreetswho were simply "atthe wrong place at the wrong time,"or
who for manyyearsdisputedany causallink betweentheir
cigarettemanufacturers
productand negativehealth outcomes. Similarly,many parentswho use corporal
punishmentsarefollowing the dictatesof a benevolentintentbecause they believe
such punishmentsare beneficialto children'smoral development("sparethe rod
and spoil the child").Motivationsfor violence are often complex admixtures,but
in additionto the familiarmotivationof hostile intent,we can identify at least four
furthertypes of motivationfor violent actions:to benefitthe community,to benefit
the victim, to satisfy recreationalor entertainmentneeds, or simply toleratingit
because it is incidentalto othergoals.
First, a variety of violent acts appearto be motivatedby the desire to benefit
the community.For example, ritual human sacrifice was practicedin a number
of premodernsocieties in order to supplicatedeities and thus bring benefits to
the community(Tierney1989; Clendinnen1991; Lincoln 1991; Levenson 1993).
Modemnation-stateshaverepeatedlysacrificedhighly valuedyoungmen in warin
orderto furtherexpansionistor defensivegoals of the community(Small & Singer
1982; Dunnigan 1993; Jackman1999). The witch-huntsof early modem Europe
andNorthAmericawere motivatedby the desire to rid communitiesof harmfulelementsbelieved to threatenthe public welfare(Russell 1972; Kors& Peters 1972;
Monter1976; Levack 1993). The infamousTuskegeeExperiment,which deliberately withheld medical treatmentfrom syphilis-infected,African-Americanmen
for fortyyears,was initiallymotivatedby the desire to benefitthe study'ssubjects,
butwhen fundingfor thatgoal was withdrawn,the investigatorsseamlessly shifted

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401

their goal to that of advancing science and benefittingthe practice of medicine


(Jones 1993). The low racialand class statusof the subjectsmade it easy to disregardtheirwell-being (eventhoughthathadbeen theinitialgoal of the study),butthe
primarypurposewas not to express hatredfor AfricanAmericansor to kill them.
Second, some violent acts are benevolentlyintendedtowardthe victim, sometimes in self-inflicted actions and sometimes inflicted on others. The selfflagellation practiced by some fervent Christiansin the Middle Ages involved
the prostrationof oneself before God in orderto protectoneself from futureharm
(Kieckhefer 1974; Dickson 1989; Lambert1992). As noted earlier,many violent
female beauty practices, such as foot binding, liposuction, breast implants, and
face-lifts, aremotivatedby the desire to enhancethe social or economic prospects
of the victim. Westernmedicine routinelyuses surgicalor drugtherapiesthat are
painful, arduous,or debilitatingin orderto prolongthe victim's life: Historically,
these methods of treatingthe sick have had variableefficacy, but they have been
motivatedby benevolentintentions.
Third, sometimes actors seek violence for its intrinsicentertainmentor recreationalvalue. The prominenceandsuccess of physicalviolence in the organization
of mass entertainmentthroughouthistory-gladiator games, bullfights,dog fights,
boxing matches,"action"movies-suggests a widespreadattractionto violence,
whetherfor catharsis,excitement, thrills, or sexual arousal.Malevolent feelings
toward the victims may contributeto the audience's enjoyment (as when early
Christianswere publiclyfed to lions), butmore often the audienceis merely indifferentto the victim (as was often the case with Romangladiators)or even adulates
the victim (as with boxing or wrestlingstarsand some Roman gladiators).
Finally, violence often occurs because the infliction of injuries is simply incidental to other goals. In such instances, violence is neitherdeliberatelysought
nor a mere accident (i.e., with no expected probabilityof occurrence).Instead,it
is knowingly toleratedas a by-productof one's actions. Spectatorsat auto races
and other high-risk sports events are willing to toleratethe spectacle of injured
driversor playersin orderto serve theirdesire for excitementor entertainment(of
course, if the injuriesare an active part of the entertainmentvalue, the violence
is not incidental).The purposeof the TuskegeeExperimentwas not to inflict suffering on its victims, but the scientists who ran the Experimentwere willing to
subordinatethe welfare of their low-status subjects to scientific goals they consideredmore important.Historically,manufacturershave placed a higherpriority
on maximizingprofitsthanon the health and safety of eithertheir workersor the
consumersof theirproducts(Berman1978; Witt& Dotter 1979; Nelkin & Brown
1984; Pollack & Keimig 1987; Rosner& Markowitz1987; Asch 1988; McGarity
& Shapiro 1993; Dotter 1998). I have alreadycommentedon the large numberof
injuriesandillnesses thatresultfromemployers'laborpractices;these do not stem
from a deliberatedesireof employersto injuretheirworkers,butinsteadfromtheir
willingnessto toleratea given probabilityof workerinjuryor illness in theirpursuit
of profit.Acceptabletolerancelevels for workerrisk recededwith rising levels of
affluenceover the course of the twentiethcenturyin the United States andremain

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JACKMAN
highly variantbetween affluentand poor nationsin the world today.It is unlikely
thatAmericancigarettemanufacturersaremotivatedby a deliberateintentto harm
their customers (especially since they constitute the market for their product),
butthey have not been deterredfromthe aggressivemarketingof cigarettesby the
estimated400,000 deathsthatarecausedannuallyin the United Statesby cigarette
smoking (U.S. Dep. Health & Hum. Serv. 1990, Peto et al. 1992). Discussions
of white racial violence usually focus on lynching, but the number of African
Americanskilled by lynching (estimatedat 5000-6000; White [1929] 1969; Hair
1989) does not compare with the vast numberof prematureAfrican-American
deathsbroughtaboutby discriminatoryracialpracticesthatlimitedblacks' access
to life-enhancinggoods andservices such as food, housing,healthcare,education,
and remunerativeoccupations(resultingin a 16-yeargap in life expectancy between black and white males in 1900 and still an 8-yeargap in the 1990s) (CDCP
1996, Farley1996, pp. 222-28). Whitesmay not have intendedto cause the prematuredeathsof so many AfricanAmericans,but they were surelywilling to tolerate
thatprice in orderto maintaintheirracial statusprerogatives.
Homicides, which have provoked intense attention from students of violence (e.g., Wolfgang 1967; Daly & Wilson 1988; Landet al. 1990; Phillips 1997;
Blumstein& Wallman2000), accountfor fewer than25,000 deathsannuallyin the
United States (FBI annual,Rosenfeld 2000), a very small numbercomparedwith
the annualdeathtoll from such incidentalviolence as harmfullaborpractices,the
marketingof unsafe consumerproductslike cigarettes,guns, andpoorly designed
automobiles,and discriminatorygrouppracticesthatrestrictsubordinates'access
to life-enhancinggoods andservices.The latterescape attentionbecausetheyoften
haverelativelyfaceless, corporateperpetrators,andthe outcomes areprobabilistic
ratherthan certain;even more misleading is the absence of a deliberateharmful
intent,which makes it easy to portraythe injuriousoutcomes as accidents,despite
documentedevidence that the perpetratorsactively resist attemptsto rectify the
practices that have caused injury(see, e.g., Asch 1988; Curran1993; McGarity
& Shapiro 1993). Surely, however, it is a measure of human callousness when
social actors, despite the absence of a deliberateintent to harm, fail to be deterredfrom a course of action by the knowledge that injuriesmay or will be the
by-product.
The emphasisin violence researchon acts thatare motivatedby willful malice
is in keeping with legal imperatives,but it effects a drasticand arbitraryreduction
in ourawarenessof the diverserangeof injuriousactionsin social life. Humansare
moved to use violent meansin the pursuitof a broadarrayof personal,social, material,or political goals. Violence may be used to performan instrumentalservice
(such as to punish those one seeks to control,to make a political statement,or to
transformone's body to meet the beauty standardsof one's culture),or simply to
satisfy expressiveneeds (such as anger,excitement,catharsis,or sexual arousal).
Most significantly,perhaps,humansalso readilytolerateviolence as an incidental
outcome of their goals, as when whites tolerate a higher mortalityrate among
AfricanAmericansas the by-productof maintainingracial statusprerogatives,or

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when employers choose to leave workersexposed to hazardousworking conditions as a by-productof maximizingprofits.Whetherinstrumental,expressive,or


incidental,violence may be carriedout with malice, good will, or indifferencefor
the victim. Restrictionof our field of vision solely to those acts that are inspired
by hostile intent is gravely misleading and underminesthe endeavorto decipher
the humanrelationshipwith violence.

VARYING INCIDENCE AND SOCIAL


ACCEPTANCE OF VIOLENCE
We have liked to think that humanshave a naturalrepugnancefor violence and
that such actions thereforedeviate from the main impetus of social life. Gender relations constitutethe only context in which a sustainedargumenthas been
made that violence is an integralpartof social interaction.A numberof feminist
scholarshave assertedthe normalityof violence againstwomen (e.g., Mill [1869]
1970; Millett 1970; Rich 1980; French 1992; Radford& Russell 1992), although
ironically as partof an argumentthat this featureof genderrelations sets it apart
from other social relations,indicativeof a uniquelypervasiveintergrouphostility
(misogyny).
However,a numberof the examplesof violence thatI have discussedareneither
rarenorrepudiatedin the culturesin whichthey occur(e.g., female genitalcutting,
the subjectionof workersto hazardousworkingconditions,violence in spectator
sportsand otherentertainment).There is wide variationin both the frequencyof
occurrence and the social acceptance of the diverse acts of violence that mark
social life. Some injuriousbehaviors are socially identified as violent and are
popularlyvilified (as when parentsmurdertheirchildren)orfeared(such as murder
or assaultby strangersor politically motivatedterroristviolence). Othersremain
nestled, unrecognized,in the bosom of everyday life (such as beauty practices
that are painful, confining, or hazardous).Still others are viewed differently in
differenthistoricalperiods or cultures(e.g., the physical beating of childrenhas
changedin the United Statesover the past 100 yearsfrombeing stipulatedparental
behaviorto being culturallychastised;definitionsof lawfully acceptablehazard
levels in the workplacehave altered significantlyover time in the United States
and continue to vary cross-nationally;female genital cutting is regardedas one
of the leading human-rightsissues in the world today by many Westerners,but
it is culturallymandatedand celebratedin the culturesthat practiceit). Our own
culture, like others, lauds a number of violent practices as exemplary (such as
organizedboxing or valor in warfare).
The confinementof researchto those injuriousactions thatare socially deviant
truncatesand distortsthe observedvariancein violence. It pushes aside important
questions about historical and cultural variation in the criminalizationof specific violent actions (as noted by Reiss & Roth 1993, p. 36-37), and it subverts
any attemptto understandwhy certainforms of violence are tolerated,accepted,

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JACKMAN
endorsed,mandated,or glorified,while othersarerepudiatedor even excoriated,or
why some acts of violence eruptonly in angerwhile othersoccur in tranquilityor
as an elementof recreation.The behavioralpropertiesof variousformsof violence
need to be divorcedfrom the meaningattachedto them legally and culturally.
Once we acknowledgeexplicitly that the social response to violent actions or
events is malleable,we can also recognize thatnot all acts of violence meet with
uniforminterpretationswithinthe same culture(Jackman2001). The perpetrators,
victims, and third-partyobserverswhose lives are entangledin violent acts often
perceive and interpretthem quite differently.Perpetratorsand others from their
grouphave an interestin denyingor obscuringthe violence, minimizingit, claiming it was an accident or anomaly,claiming the victim precipitatedit, willfully
desired it, or benefittedfrom it, or glorifying it as altruisticor necessary for the
commongood (e.g., to maintainlaw and order,appeasea deity,or enforce a moral
code). Victims and their allies have an interest in emphasizing or exaggerating
the incidence, frequency,or severity of injuries, attributingbase motives to the
perpetrator(s),claimingthe victim's innocenceandlack of complicity,or claiming
the violence is detrimentalto communalgoals or values. When perpetratorsand
victims make contested symbolic appeals,thirdpartyobserversmay join the fray
or choose to look the otherway.
The most sustainedinvestigationof this issue has been in researchon violence
againstwomen. A numberof scholarshave exploredlegal andculturaljudgments
assault(e.g., May 1978; Burt 1980; Malamuth1981;
of rape and intimate-partner
Greenblat1983; LaFreeet al. 1985; Pleck 1989; Bograd 1988; Scully 1990). This
work has demonstratedthe inventiveness of social actors in their responses to
various kinds of violence against women, historically and in the contemporary
United States. Public opinion datafrom the United States have also been used to
explorepopulardefinitionsandmoralevaluationsof otherviolent events,primarily
variousformsof collective violence (Blumenthalet al. 1972, 1975). Cerulo(1998)
examinedhow both the contentand the structure("sequencing")of mediareports
affect people's moraljudgmentsof violent incidents;this researchhighlights the
need for analysis of the sociological factors that shape the structureof media
accounts.Researchthusfaron culturalresponsesto violent actsprovidespromising
leads thatneed to be extendedto a wider,representativerangeof injuriousactions
to addressthe varyingsocial acceptanceof violence.

GENERIC DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE


In an attemptto introducea more systematic,comprehensiveanalysisof violence,
Jackman(1999, 2001, in preparation)has proposeda generic definitionthat focuses unequivocallyon the injuriousnessof actions, detached from their social,
moral,or legal standing.Weneed to recognizethatviolence is a genusof behaviors,
made up of a diverse class of injuriousactions, involving a variety of behaviors,
injuries,motivations,agents, victims, and observers.The sole threadconnecting
them is the threator outcome of injury.

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VIOLENCE:
Actions thatinflict, threaten,or cause injury.
Actions may be corporal,written,or verbal.
Injuriesmay be corporal,psychological, material,or social.
This definitionincludes all actions thatdirectly inflict injuryas well as those that
either threatenor result in injury.It specifies that injuriousactions and outcomes
may take many forms. The language also permits the injuriousoutcomes to be
immediateor delayed, certainor probabilistic.It furtherpermitsboth agents and
victims to be either identifiableindividualsor more amorphouscorporateentities. More significantly,this definition sets no constraintson the motivationsof
either the victim or the agent, and is agnostic about whetherthe behavioris unusual or commonplaceandwhetherit meets with societal repudiation,disinterest,
acceptance,or admiration.It thus provides a stripped-downtemplateto identify
all behaviorsthat inflict, threaten,or cause injury.This provides a consistent, autonomous basis for identifying the full populationof injurioussocial behaviors,
purely on the basis of their indigenous behavioralattributes.Like other generic
nominations(e.g., chair,building,university),thereis no implicationthat all phenomenafalling withinthe genus areto be equated.To the contrary,the application
of autonomousand consistentrules for the identificationof violent actions forces
us to confrontthe diverseforms of violence in social life. Only then may we begin
to differentiatethe characterand severityof those actions systematically.
By enlargingthe field of violent actions, my definitionalso points to the limitationsof claims of nonviolence.Activists who refrainfrom the use of physical or
psychological violence may still engage in tactics thatinflict (intentionally)social
or materialharm on their targets, as in economic boycotts or media campaigns
decryingthe target'sactions. The choice to refrainfrom physically violent tactics
is made strategicallywithin a political context or because of personalmoralaversion to physical violence (e.g., King 1963, p. 36-40). Much as their ideological
positions may try to obscure it, political actors must often find effective ways to
weaken (i.e., harm) their opponentsif they are to prevail. It is more productive
to observe the types of tactics they select without imposing a moral orderingon
those tactics. Violence may appear(in some guise) in many unexpectedplaces.
Violence is not a constant:It variesin its presence,its character,and its severitybut the humanpropensityfor violence is certainlymorepervasivethanthe current
reigning conception implies. Humansdo not have to inflict injurieson others or
themselves, and many human behaviors are indeed benign. However, one does
not have to assert that violence is a dominanthuman strategyto recognize that
it is a pervasivepart of the normal social repertoire.Most humans do choose at
least sometimes to engage in various actions that inflict some sort of injury.The
interestingassessmentis not whethersome individualsemploy violence: It is not
a dichotomous yes-or-no category. Instead, violence is a multifacetedgenus of
behaviorswhose componentelementsvary on continua.The productivequestions
are the degree to which various social actors use violent means (on a continuum

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JACKMAN
from never or rarely to frequently),what methods they use, what type of injury
they inflict, what their purpose is, who the targets are, and the severity of the
injuries.

NEW RESEARCHQUESTIONS
Once we conceive of violence as a genus of social behaviors,new questionscan be
pursuedaboutviolence in social life. Jackman(1999, 2001, in preparation)posits
that social actors, far from being averse to actions that inflict injuries on others
or themselves, instead incorporatesuch actions routinely when they seem like
feasible, efficacious strategiesfor the attainmentof their goals. Individualsvary
in theirpersonalpropensityfor violence-as agents, victims, and observers-but
most neitherseek out nor shrinkfromit. Cursoryevidence suggeststhatthe human
capacityto commit,endure,andobserveviolence is elastic. It expandsand shrinks
in accordancewith such factorsas: the actor'sgoals and the presumedefficacy of
the violence in deliveringthose goals; the immunityor vulnerabilityof the actor
to sanctions or negative repercussionsstemming from the behavior;the relative
status and group affiliations of agents, victims, and observers (which bears on
the previous consideration);the spatial,temporal,or organizationalinsulationof
actorsfromthe victims;andthe availabilityandrelativeefficacyof otherstrategies.
Decisions to take actionsthatwill resultin injuriesto othersor oneself, the type of
injuriesthatare sought or tolerated,the type of behaviorthatis employed,and the
social constructionplaced on those actions,areall madewithina strategicpolitical
context.
This approachsuggests threekey steps in buildinga systematicunderstanding
of violence in social life. First,we mustdefineandmeasurethe myriadcomponents
of violence. This is a difficult undertaking,in view of the many dimensionsthat
shadethe practiceof violence, butit is essential if we areto have a clearroadmap
throughthis highly charged territory.By developing a consistent set of criteria
to measurethe severity and characterof all injuriousactions, we can be clearer
aboutwhereto situateany specific act in the family of violence. Measureslike the
ConflictTacticsScales (Gelles & Straus1988; Straus& Geles 1990; Brush 1993;
Strauset al. 1996) and the National Survey of Crime Severity (Wolfgang et al.
1985; Warr1994) areproductivemodels: The measuresthemselves,the questions
they reveal, and the ensuing debatesforce us to grapplewith the precise meaning
of violent acts.
To start,we need to build systematic, autonomousrules to assess the severity
of violent acts. Our legal code judges severity of crimes with a complex admixture of multiple criteria,includingthe intent of the offenderand the victim (e.g.,
manslaughterand victim-precipitatedhomicide are both less severe than homicide), the seriousness of the injurythat results (e.g., attemptedhomicide is less
severethanhomicide),andthe statusof the victim andthe offender(e.g., homicide

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407

is more severe when the victim is a police officer or an elected political official,
less severe when the offenderis a youth) (Emanuel1987). This code compounds
societal values with factorsindigenousto the act itself, and theirrelativeweights
in specific cases are often resolved only by invoking arbitrarydecision rules. I
suggest, instead, a cleaner assessmentof the severity of violence that attendsto
attributesof the violence itself [as the CTS attemptsto do (Straus& Gelles 1990;
Strauset al. 1996)], and/orto explicit measuresof the social judgmentsof severity
[as does the NSCS (Wolfganget al. 1985; Warr1994)]. The formermodel invokes
such factorsas the number,frequency,and durationof violent acts, and/orthe extent,duration,certainty,andirreversibilityof injury,whereasthe lattermodel relies
on people's opinions aboutthe severityof specific violent acts (eitherhypothetical
or experiential).Both sets of factorsmay be relevant,butwe shouldbe clear about
which elements contributeto a specific assessment.
Beyond assessmentsof severity,we need to focus systematicallyon otherelements thatdefinethe characterof violent acts. A wide arrayof factorsis pertinent,
e.g., what type of behavioris used by the perpetrator/s,what type of injury results, what is the apparentmotivationof the agent and the victim, are the agents
and victims individual,multiple, or corporate,what are the status attributesof
the agent and victim, is the injuryimmediateor delayed, are there witnesses and
what is their relationshipto the agent and the victim, is the action legal or illegal, socially condoned, admired,or repudiated,and what are the rewardsor
penaltiesfor committingor resistingthe act? We need systematic,empiricalmeasurementof the constituentelementsthatareconjoinedin diverseconfigurationsof
violence.
Second, we must examine the way in which institutionalarrangementsfacilitate or obstructthe practice of varioustypes of violence, that is, the social organization of violence. For example, a systematic examinationof the relationship
between gender and violence (Jackman1999) suggests that, contraryto the emphasis of much researchon misogyny and violence against women (e.g., Millett
1970; Brownmiller1975; Dobash & Dobash 1979; Stark& Flitcraft1988; Scully
1990; French1992; Radford& Russell 1992), men's questfor proprietarycontrol
over women leads them to commit considerablymore interpersonal,physical violence againstothermales thanagainstfemales, to shelterwomen routinelyfrom
many of the more violence-pronecorporateenvironments(e.g., the battlefield,the
blue-collar workplace), and to establish institutionalizedincentives and punishments thatgoad women to carryout violence againsttheirown bodies withoutany
directinterventionby men. In a broaderinvestigationof the social organizationof
violence in race, class, and genderrelations,Jackman(2001) exploredthe institutional arrangementsin systems of expropriationthatfacilitateand veil dominants'
practiceof violence againstsubordinates,by providingorganizationalniches that
screen interpersonalviolence from third-partyobservation,or by using chains of
commandor selective incentivesto make subordinate-groupmembersthe visible
henchmen.Institutionsgrantsubordinatesfew opportunitiesto practiceviolence

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JACKMAN
eitheron theirown initiativeor againstdominants,thus channelingtheir violence
into interpersonalandextraorganizational
formsthataredirectedprimarilyagainst
membersof their own group.This fosters the illusion that it is subordinategroup
members (e.g., blacks, the lower class) who are more violence-prone,but their
violence is simply morevisible becauseit is committedby andagainstindividuals
withoutthe benefit of organizationalcover.
Third, we must analyze the ideology of violence, to try to assess how and
why variousacts of violence arerepudiated,ignored,denied,praised,or glorified.
In keeping with theoryon the dynamicsof social constructionand ideology (e.g.,
Gramsci1971;Goffman1959, 1970;Jones& Nisbett 1971; Stryker& Serpe 1982;
Jackman1994; Hardin& Higgins 1996), I propose that the social definitionof a
violent act emerges out of a culturalcontest between the motivatedperceptions
of the agent and the victim as well as of thirdparties.This suggests we should
examine the social, economic and political goals-and resources-of the agents,
victims, and third-partyobserversof violent actions, and the significance of the
violence in furtheringor obstructingtheir respective goals. The characteristics
of the act (the numberof agents, the method of injury,the type and severity of
injury,the motivationfor the act, and so on) and the organizationalcontext within
which it occurs may provide opportunitiesalternatelyto deny it, claim it was an
accident,claim it was an exception,displaceblame,justify it, glorify it, exaggerate
its severity or incidence, or vilify the motives of the perpetrator.We must break
awayfromthe preoccupationwith violent acts thataresocially repudiated.Instead,
we should try to determinewhy only a small proportionof social violence meets
such a negative social judgment,and what the factorsare that drive the symbolic
manipulationof violent social acts.
None of these suggestions should be taken as a call to end more specialized
researchon particularforms of violence. Detailed attentionto specific types of
violence is invaluableto the cumulationof informationabout violence (whether
specific empiricalforms such as homicides or female genital cutting, or subsets
such as physical violence or social violence). However,such work will contribute
more to our understandingof the specific type itself and of the genus as a whole
if it is situated in a consistent, systematic frameworkthat reaches comprehensively across the family of violence. To that end, specialized researchneeds to
be supplementedwith work that comparesalternativeforms of violence and advances a more generic frame.Withoutthe full populationof violent actions held
coherentlyin view, we impoverishthe questto understandthe place of violence in
social life.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authorthanksRobertW.Jackman,Bill McCarthy,andan anonymousreviewer
for theirhelpfulcommentson this paper,as well as manyothercolleagues and studentswho have arguedwith me aboutthe ideas expressedherein.Theircomments
have helped me formulatethe ideas, and they have made life more fun.

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The Annual Review of Sociology is online at http://soc.annualreviews.org


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